By Atsushi Ukito
I have worked as an infant and toddler teacher for 11 years in New Zealand after emigrating from Japan in 1999. Before then I had been a waiter, truck driver, kitchen hand, flower shop assistant, door to door sales man, and music teacher.
When I arrived in New Zealand I decided that I would like to have a career as an early childhood teacher.
My struggle to define and find myself as a male teacher
I knew before I started early childhood teacher training that there were not many men working in this field. Still I must admit I was shocked to find that there were as few men as there were. In teacher training I was the only male student.
I was told that I was: "brave". I was congratulated: "good on you". I was noticed as not fitting with the characteristic of early childhood students: "how nice to have a male in the course". I understand why everyone reacted to me like this – it is because traditionally this is seen to be women’s work.
This early overwhelming attention extended to giving many interviews to reporters and others about being a male in ECE. While I have helped in efforts to promote ECE to men, I have always seen myself as a teacher first and not as someone who is special for being male. So I have had my own inner struggle between my view of my role as a teacher and society’s view of me as someone who breaks the stereotype of who can be an early childhood teacher.
Furthermore, I have had difficulty relating to the stories of other male teachers who have discussed the male attributes they bring to their work with children. For example, it is often said that men bring more active movement, entertainment, and rough and tumble play to children’s learning. But during my early childhood teaching career I have spent most of my time with babies and toddlers and I believe for this age group that the priority is not rough and tumble play or being a man.
I have wondered whether men who work with infants play different roles to women. I still don’t know if I should be doing something differently because I am male.
The reality is that men who work with infants are even rarer so I don’t have any role models to look to, and there’s not a lot of literature focussed on men’s work with this age group.
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